Friday, December 22, 2006

The Thai Crisis and Israel


By Douglas Wong and Darren Boey

Dec. 20 (Bloomberg) – “Thailand's reputation with investors has suffered long-term damage following a Sept. 19 coup and this week's on-again-off-again capital controls, which wiped out $23 billion of market value from Thai stocks yesterday…

The Bank of Thailand on Dec. 18 announced controls on overseas short-term investments in Thailand to stem a sharp rise in the value of the baht. Yesterday, the Finance Ministry made a volte face and exempted equities from the rules following a 15 percent slide in the benchmark SET index.”


So what does this averted Thai crisis have to do with Israel? Israel’s economy is largely dependent on global trade.

One key reason Israel MUST “cooperate” with world bodies—most of whose members presently do not care whether Israel is squeezed and marginalized—is because failure to cooperate might cut off Israel’s ability to conduct global trade. This could be disastrous for Israel.

Israeli political leaders are aware of this. They are not naive. In choosing their course of political action, they are being probabilistic. No one can foretell the future. They have calculated the odds of future events unfolding in certain ways, and they are acting on their views of expected outcomes.

I believe they are miscalculating. They are focusing on the risks of what can go wrong, and not on the rewards of what can go right.

They should ask themselves: “How large need Israel be to thrive, succeed and be viable in the Middle-East?”

They probably ask themselves: “Will a smaller, less vilified Israel better provide for its citizens than a larger, vilified one?

This latter kind of question, asked because of perceived international pressures may lead to a “Yes” answer that jeopardized Israel in the long-term.

A smaller Israel will be less important in the world, and ultimately less able to provide for itself, and a growing population. Remember, there is plenty of room in the Middle-East for everyone.

Large or small, Israel will still be vilified for years to come.

To stem and fight vilification, Israel must get more important, not less. Israel must take the calculated risk of becoming more demanding of the international community, not less.

Israel must strive to achieve what it needs to succeed, not succumb to current perceived pressure that may make it a perpetually limping, and withering State.

--David Naggar

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

47% Of Americans Believe What?


From, December 15, 2006

“The Iraq Study Group recommended that Syria and Iran be included in talks about the future of Iraq…

A Rasmussen Reports survey conducted in mid-November found that half (52%) of American adults believe that Syria and Iran should be included in the talks….

Forty-seven percent (47%) of Americans believe that Israelis and Palestinians should also be included in the talks about Iraq’s future.”


Why do 47% of Americans think that Israelis and Palestinians should be included in the talks about IRAQ’S future?

Do they hold a sophisticated worldview that calls for the entire British/French contrived colonial map to be redrawn? Or is it their lack of familiarity with the region and the specific Sunni-Shia power struggles in Iraq that inexplicably leads them to call for Palestinian and Israeli involvement in Iraq?

The nature and sources of the various troubles emanating from the Middle-East are not well understood by the public.

Representative, Sylvestre Reyes, incoming House intelligence Committee Chairman, couldn’t even answer whether Al Qaeda was predominantly Sunni or Shia.

It is likely that the results of public opinion polls will guide his behavior in his new job.

To ignore the polls might be fatal at the next election to many Democrats, as Republicans founds out last month when public support for the war in Iraq faded.

If you are a supporter of a viable, successful Israel, you have to ask yourself, what does a powerful man like Rep. Reyes know? And how can you help him know more?

What is your obligation to promote an informed opinion that will doubtless redound to a thriving Israel?

The reason many people believe that a two-state solution within the confines of Israel and the territories is the only way forward is merely a reflection of the conventional wisdom that there is no other option. Do you really believe that President Bush or Secretary Rice would champion such an idea unless world opinion allowed for no other choice?

As long as public opinion is not swayed that there are indeed other more productive options available, there will never be another option available.

The big losers of the current option—executed or not—are both the Palestinians and Israel. And, as for the world, the increased likelihood of a regional war that ultimately flows from pursuing a non-workable option aside, if the citizens of Israel end up in bad shape, the technological and medical benefits that can be brought to all of humanity by the country that currently has the second most listings on the NASDAQ, will be greatly diminished.

There is a better way. Read The Case for a Larger Israel. Do encourage others to read it, including Rep. Reyes.

--David Naggar

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Revisiting Conventional Wisdom—Everyone Wins

These pearls of wisdom from the New York Times best seller Freakonomics, by famed economist Steven D. Levitt, and Stephen J. Dubner.

1. Journalists need experts as badly as experts need journalists. Every day newspaper pages and television newscasts must be filled, and so, an expert who can deliver a jarring piece of wisdom is always welcome. Working together, journalists and experts are the architects of much conventional wisdom.

2. Conventional wisdom must be simple, convenient, comfortable, and comforting—though not necessarily true. Noticing where the conventional wisdom may be false—noticing, perhaps, the contrails of sloppy or self-interested thinking—is a nice place to start to ask questions.

3. The conventional wisdom, however created, can be hard to budge.


If you believe millions of Jews who live in Israel and millions of Palestinians who live in the territories should be free to govern themselves and exercise rights of self-determination, you are probably a candidate for believing in the conventional wisdom. The conventional wisdom calls for a two-state solution. The two-state solution is simple (if only the two sides would smarten up and get along), it is convenient, it is comfortable and it is comforting.

Folks who believe in the idea of a two-state solution within the confines of Israel and the territories undoubtedly believe that this will bring stability or peace.

They are wrong. It will bring more misery. But conventional wisdom, being what it is, is hard to budge.

If you have visited, but have not read the book, please take the time to do so. It will give you a fresh perspective on conventional wisdom, and why it is wrong.

Write to your country’s leaders about it. While they are busy searching out answers to the explosive Middle-East issues, they need to hear from you.

Revisiting conventional wisdom is good for Israel, it is good for Palestinians, it is good for the region, it is good humanity, and it is good for the world.

--David Naggar

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Wrong Vision from Bush, Blair and the Iraq Study Group

“In relation to what the President was just saying a moment or two ago on Israel and Palestine, I think that one thing that is very clear is that the old Middle East had within it the origins of all the problems we see. I mean, this terrorist problem that we faced in the last few years, it didn't originate, I'm afraid, a few years ago. It's been building up over decades. It's come out of a series of states of oppression, of warped ideology, based on a perverted view of the faith of Islam. This has been building up for a long period of time. And it has basically come out of the Middle East.

Now, my view in the end is that you go back to the origins of this and say, well, how do we resolve it? And the only way we resolve it is by having the right vision and then the practical measures to achieve it.

Now, I think the vision is absolutely correct. What we've got to do now -- and this is exactly why the President was talking about the way forward -- is that we've got to get the right way forward -- this is where Baker-Hamilton helped -- in order that we have the practical policy that bolsters and gives effect to the vision, because the vision is the right vision. You leave a Middle East in which the Israel-Palestine issue is not solved, in which there's no moves towards democracy, in which Iraq goes back in its old state, in which the Iranian people have no chance to express themselves, maybe not in the months or one year, two years, but you'll have the same problem.”

Tony Blair—from today’s White House Press Conference with President Bush


Peace between the Arabs and the Israelis won’t come easily, even if one starts with the right vision. But starting with the wrong vision will lead to disaster. Tony Blair’s vision is the same as George Bush’s: a two-state solution contained within the geography of Israel and the territories. His vision is wrong, but his assessment of what happens if one tries to implement the wrong vision is right. Sadly, this wrong-headed vision is endorsed by the Baker-Hamilton, Iraq Study Group Report.

What follows is quoted text from the Iraq Study Group Report dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict (with my interlaced editorial comments).

“The United States will not be able to achieve its goals in the Middle East unless the United States deals directly with the Arab-Israeli conflict. There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts: Lebanon, Syria, and President Bush’s June 2002 commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.”

They favor the unworkable two-state solution. Consider the group’s motivation. As other world community leaders, Bush and Blair included, the study group participants want stability in the region. They can’t be expected to deeply care whether Israel or a Palestinian State is viable, except in so far as it furthers stability. Stability is in their perceived interest. If they can fashion a solution that would leave Jews and Arabs of the region suppressed but quiet, that would meet their interest. Every other achievement might be a welcomed bonus, but not necessary.

“The United States does its ally Israel no favors in avoiding direct involvement to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. For several reasons, we should act boldly:

• There is no military solution to this conflict.”

This bit of conventional wisdom, often repeated, has always been false. Why does the world request Israel to return to the 1949-1967 borders and not to the smaller 1947 U.N. General Assembly partition plan borders? Or the smaller Jewish State borders proposed in the 1930s? When winners truly win and losers truly lose, the losing side loses its taste for battle for a very long time. Witness Germany.

No one likes war, but it is the threat of it, and the fear of it, that makes the other side do what it otherwise is not inclined to do. The real threat of military conflict, and the knowledge by one side that they will likely lose that conflict is the prime driver of diplomacy. Fear of being next, kept Syria and Iran at bay in Iraq for a while. When the fear was gone, all hell broke loose.

Treaties, agreements and contracts are not worth the paper they are written on unless there is a remedy section that can be enforced against the party that is contemplating a breach. Yes, there are incentives, and disincentives—even out and out bribes—used by the stronger side to help the weaker side see the bigger picture of what’s in its interests, but the truth is, there is always a military threat that stands behind diplomatic efforts.

“• The vast majority of the Israeli body politic is tired of being a nation perpetually at war.”

This is true. And it is dangerous. This situation leads to extremes: capitulation, or lashing out at one’s enemies.

“• No American administration—Democratic or Republican—will ever abandon Israel.”

This is not a thoughtful statement. Even a fortune-teller wouldn’t be so bold. Demographics change. Interests change. Alliances change. France was once an ally of Israel. For a variety of self-interested reasons, among them oil and a growing Muslim population, France is no longer Israel’s ally.

“• Political engagement and dialogue are essential in the Arab-Israeli dispute because it is an axiom that when the political process breaks down there will be violence on the ground.”

It is also axiomatic that when a party to a conflict cannot thrive on the scraps the world is willing to allow it to have, the political process will break down. A wrong-headed political process in the Middle-East, even if it brings temporary respite, will over time lead to greater violence, not less. Tony Blair is right about this.

“• The only basis on which peace can be achieved is that set forth in UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and in the principle of “land for peace.””

The only basis on which peace can truly be achieved in the Middle-East is through a new Muslim consensus understanding of the Quran. Until then, there will be no peace for the nations of the mostly Christian West, between Muslim sects, or for Israel.

With or without peace, Israel must be large enough to be viable or it will wither. But only with a new understanding of the Quran will Israel be allowed to live peacefully in borders of a sufficient size for it to be viable. Only in that day will Muslim society at large prosper throughout the vast amount of Middle-East territory that they dwell in.

“• The only lasting and secure peace will be a negotiated peace such as Israel has achieved with Egypt and Jordan.”

There is no lasting and secure peace between Israel, on the one hand, and Egypt and Jordan on the other. Free elections in Egypt would lead to the nullification of the treaty. A treaty with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is only good as long as a Hashemite King rules over Jordan—not a good long-term bet.

“This effort would strongly support moderate Arab governments in the region, especially the democratically elected government of Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority under
President Mahmoud Abbas.”

Moderate governments that are not democracies (i.e., all Arab governments) shouldn’t be afforded the label “moderate.” They are unelected, and supporting them is no virtue. Lebanon is a place on the map drawn by the French. It is a country in name only. Its army does not control the State. The weeks ahead are likely to show this once again.

“RECOMMENDATION 13: There must be a renewed and sustained commitment by the United States to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace on all fronts: Lebanon and Syria, and President Bush’s June 2002 commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.”

This is the wrong approach as noted above, and discussed in more detail in my book.

“RECOMMENDATION 14: This effort should include—as soon as possible—the unconditional calling and holding of meetings, under the auspices of the United States or the Quartet (i.e., the United States, Russia, European Union, and the United Nations), between Israel and Lebanon and Syria on the one hand, and Israel and Palestinians (who acknowledge Israel’s right to exist) on the other. The purpose of these meetings would be to negotiate peace as was done at the Madrid Conference in 1991, and on two separate tracks—one Syrian/Lebanese, and the other Palestinian.”

What is the true point of any Israeli meeting with Palestinians that excludes Hamas? The world will not let Israel defeat this foe, and unless it is defeated, Israel cannot have peace with the Palestinians.

What is the true point of any Israeli meeting with Lebanon that excludes Hezbollah? Unless it is defeated, Israel cannot have peace with Lebanon.

“RECOMMENDATION 15: Concerning Syria, some elements of that negotiated peace should be:
• Syria’s full adherence to UN Security Council Resolution
1701 of August 2006, which provides the framework for Lebanon to regain sovereign control over its territory.
• Syria’s full cooperation with all investigations into political assassinations in Lebanon, especially those of Rafik Hariri and Pierre Gemayel.
• A verifiable cessation of Syrian aid to Hezbollah and the use of Syrian territory for transshipment of Iranian weapons and aid to Hezbollah. (This step would do much to solve Israel’s problem with Hezbollah.)
• Syria’s use of its influence with Hamas and Hezbollah for the release of the captured Israeli Defense Force soldiers.
• A verifiable cessation of Syrian efforts to undermine the democratically elected government of Lebanon.
• A verifiable cessation of arms shipments from or transiting through Syria for Hamas and other radical Palestinian groups.
• A Syrian commitment to help obtain from Hamas an acknowledgment of Israel’s right to exist.
• Greater Syrian efforts to seal its border with Iraq.”

All one can truly say about this recommendation is that it is fantasy. For instance, can one really expect the Syrians to cooperate in an investigation of the Harari/Gemayel assassinations when the West has already suggested that Syria had a hand in it?

“RECOMMENDATION 16: In exchange for these actions and in the context of a full and secure peace agreement, the Israelis should return the Golan Heights, with a U.S. security guarantee for Israel that could include an international force on the
border, including U.S. troops if requested by both parties.”

It is true that if there is full peace with Syria, like the peace that exists between the Untied States and Canada, it really won’t matter who controls the Golan Heights—as long as Israel has sufficient other territory to be viable. When Syria is a democracy, and when the vast majority of the people who dwell within the confines of this modern-day British/French created entity agree that their territorial borders are final for the foreseeable future, Israel ceding the Golan might be a safer bet.

“RECOMMENDATION 17: Concerning the Palestinian issue, elements of that negotiated peace should include:
• Adherence to UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and
338 and to the principle of land for peace, which are the only bases for achieving peace.
• Strong support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to take the lead in preparing the way for negotiations with Israel.
• A major effort to move from the current hostilities by consolidating the cease-fire reached between the Palestinians and the Israelis in November 2006.
• Support for a Palestinian national unity government.
• Sustainable negotiations leading to a final peace settlement along the lines of President Bush’s two-state solution, which would address the key final status issues of borders, settlements, Jerusalem, the right of return, and the end of conflict.”

Again, the contemplated two-state solution is no favor to Israel or the Palestinians. Read my book for greater detail. Pushing and attempting to implement a wrong-headed vision will lead to regional, if not global disaster.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Menachem Begin, Jimmy Carter and Today’s Troubles

As a lawyer and in business, I always told the other side in any negotiation that no individual term of a deal was final until the entire deal itself was final.

In other words, any point on which we had reached an understanding was subject to renegotiation until we reached an understanding on all points.

A decent negotiator understands that all contended points in a negotiation are connected.

I might agree to concede point x if the other side would concede point y, but if we had an impasse on point z, we might have to revisit point x again to forge ahead on point z.

This brings me to Menachem Begin. I always felt that Menachem Begin made a terrible mistake in signing over all of the Sinai in exchange for a piece of paper from a dictatorial Egyptian regime—even if everyone likes the dictator.

There are a few reasons I feel this deal was a mistake—in spite of the cold peace that has lasted for nearly 30 years—but the negotiator’s reason is the one that I’d like readers to appreciate.

Once Egypt received 100% of the captured territory it held before the ’67 war, it painted Israel, Syria and Jordan (later the Palestinians) into what I call a “negotiating corner.” It is difficult to get out of such a corner.

How could Syria or Jordan (now the Palestinians) possibly accept different terms from Israel from those offered to Egypt?

Rather than waiting for the right time to negotiate a final peace with all the Arab countries, so that the Arab parties could weigh their success or lack of success against each other, the “Egypt only” deal set the benchmark.

For any sitting Syrian or Palestinian regime, accepting anything less than 100% of the pre ’67 territory (allowing for minor border adjustments) will be unacceptable.

And the deal with Egypt was destined to bind the international community, sooner or later, to pressure Israel into making the same deal with the other regimes that it made with Egypt—notwithstanding any perceived differences (from the Israeli point of view) in circumstances.

I am mindful that Menachem Begin had at his disposal more pertinent information than I do today, and hindsight isn’t a fair standard by which to judge any decision.

So I wonder…

I wonder if his motivation for a separate deal with Egypt was the thought that there wouldn’t be a western front should there be another war with other Arab regimes.

I wonder if he thought the deal he made would help him reestablish a Jewish presence in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).

I wonder if Jimmy Carter exerted so much pressure on him—i.e., take the deal or we will cut Israel off—that the Prime Minister felt he had no choice but to take the deal, or risk Israel’s survival.

He must have weighed many factors before agreeing, knowingly or unknowingly, to paint Israel into a future negotiating corner.

Still, I think it was a wrong decision.

In my eyes, Menachem Begin does not stand alone in this negotiating failure. And maybe he was left with no alternative.

Jimmy Carter, the President whose failed foreign policy eased the way for the Ayatollahs to come to power in Iran, must share in the blame for the current troubles.

The former President takes credit, and credit is given from many quarters, for his “achievement” at Camp David.

I think history will take the credit away for this failed policy. A partial solution that in all practicality prevents a workable full solution is no solution at all.

Now that all leaders in the Middle-East are boxed in by the Camp David Accords, the international community is forced to deal only with the part of the negotiation that remains “unsolved.”

And what to do? Conventional wisdom dictates that the only solution is to split Israel and the territories between Israelis and Palestinians.

But if there cannot be a viable Israel and a viable Palestine within the borders of Israel and the territories, how will forcing this solution on the parties, serve anyone in the long term?

If the “only solution” cannot work, there can only be trouble ahead.

That is why it is imperative to persuade international leaders to explore new ways of looking at the situation.

If Israel is to be viable in the long-term, if the Palestinians are to be allowed to escape from their current plight, the deal that puts to rest the Arab/Muslim-Israeli conflict must involve more than negotiating concessions from the Palestinians, Syrians or Israelis.

--David Naggar